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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers ‘Different Team’ Since Last Playoff With Lightning



Florida panthers
Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov congratulates Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper after the Lightning swept the Panthers in the second round of the playoffs on May 23, 2022, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers are in a much different place than they were the last time their cross-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning sent them packing for the summer.

After that second-round sweep in 2022, Florida underwent a complete overhaul.

Coach Andrew Brunette was let go and Paul Maurice was hired; Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar were traded for Matthew Tkachuk in a summertime blockbuster.

General manager Bill Zito and his staff continued to find a solid supporting cast around the team’s burgeoning stars.

The result?

A run to the Stanley Cup Final last summer which has led to a date with their bitter rival in the first-round of the 2024 playoffs.

This time feels much different.

They. Panthers have a new team and a new style thanks to the identity Tkachuk, Maurice and Zito helped create.

“We are a completely different team,” Sam Bennett said. “We play a different game, we have different systems. We honestly have a lot of the same guys but we are a completely different team. So you can’t really take too much from that series.”

Tampa Bay has taken notice as well.

Their matchups with the Panthers have quickly become more physical, chippy and physically imposing.

They know how hard Florida is to play against these days.

“Maurice has gotten their team going,” Victor Hedman said after the final matchup between these two teams last month.

“They’ve got one of the best records in the league, if not the best in the league, and they were at the final last year, so they are a very talented team.”

All of the change the Panthers underwent does not get rid of the chip on their shoulder heading into this series.

Before the run to the Cup Final, the Lightning accounted for the past two early exits from the playoffs.

In the first-ever playoff meeting between the two in 2021, Tampa Bay took out a young Florida team trying to find its way in 6.

In 2022, it was a disappointing second-round sweep for a team hot off a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season.

After those years of heartbreak, Florida has its chance to get revenge and get its first playoff series win in what has been one of the NHL’s up-and-coming rivalries.

“It’s always fireworks when we play these guys,” Carter Verhaeghe said.

“It’s always a good game. [The Lightning] are an awesome team, really skilled, physical. They have all the elements to have a really good team, so it’s going to be two good teams going at it.”

The newcomers know how much this rivalry means at this point.

Florida and Tampa Bay have had a lot of time to keep it brewing over the past two seasons, with the Panthers owning a 4-2-1 edge in their seven regular season meetings.

And, now the Lightning have Anthony Duclair — who was on the other side of those two playoff losses.

“It’s going to be great. Both teams know how to play hard,” Maurice said. “Both teams have some high-end skill. It will be a great battle. It will be great for the fans. The energy—I haven’t experienced it yet so I’m new to this. I’m looking forward to it.”

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